Baltimore's health commissioner urged a City Council committee yesterday to enact a bill requiring all children 1 and 2 years old to be tested for lead poisoning, though the General Assembly adopted a similar statewide law two weeks ago.
Dr. Peter Beilenson said that until 2003, the state law does not require a lead-testing registry for children and does not require parents to provide proof of the test when they enroll their children in school.
Beilenson said the city legislation, which was introduced Feb. 28 and is expected to be voted on next month, would immediately require the registry and notification.
Lead poisoning can cause severe brain damage, learning and emotional problems, retardation and death.
One in five of the 31 percent of Baltimore children tested in 1998 had harmful levels of lead in their blood.
Several community activists joined Beilenson in urging the Housing, Health and Environment Committee to act swiftly on the legislation.
Most of the activists did not agree with Beilenson's support of criminal penalties -- a provision in the bill -- for parents who fail to have their children tested. They urged committee members to remove the proposed $100 fine.
"Our concern is, historically, parents have been blamed for their child having lead poisoning," said Mary Vogel of the Kennedy Krieger Institute. "We feel you should not criminalize people for circumstances they cannot control. There is a myth parents are lazy or negligent."
Beilenson defended the fine, saying it would probably not be enforced but would be necessary to ensure that doctors and parents would abide by the law.
He said that if the bill becomes law, the registry requirement will "piggyback" on the city's immunization registry for childhood diseases.
For people without health insurance, testing would be paid for with funds from more than $3 million in recent state and federal grants, Beilenson said.
The state law passed March 27 also requires blood testing for children on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland, areas with high levels of lead poisoning.
In addition, the committee heard public comments on legislation that would require the Health Department to post notices on houses or apartments found to contain dangerous levels of lead paint.